Thursday, April 30, 2009

Why Should God Be Part of Our Laws?

"God will not favor everything that we do. It is rather our duty to divine His will." Lyndon B Johnson

"...the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God." John F Kennedy

"The way is plain, peaceful and generous...if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless." Abraham Lincoln

"With God's help, we can and will resolve the problems which now confront us." Ronald Reagan

Continuing his two part series, "God and Country", Andy Stanley reminds us that sometimes when things surface nationally which intersect with things we find in scripture, people that do what he does (minister) have to say something in response. The question Andy poses is, "Where is God in the national conscience?" Every nation has a conscience. As individuals, our accountability to God speaks our conscience, but who or what speaks to our national conscience if not God?

Just a few weeks ago, we saw a great example of our national conscience. The insurance giant, AIG, received money from the government to bail themselves out of a financial meltdown and then it was made known that the high level executives were still going to be receiving enormous bonuses!! Obama, in sharp response, said something very interesting. He essentially said, "the executives that receive those large bonuses ought to give the money back." But it was an "ought to" and the public seemed to come together and agree. But what was behind the "ought to"? Where does the moral conscience come from; the President?

We are a nation that continues to appeal to something that guides us, but what is it? Last week, Andy pointed out that clearly, the national conversation involving God has fallen out of favor. The reason that it isn't cool or politically correct to mention God on the national stage is not necessarily because it's not fair or because it's not comfortable nor is it because we've intellectually moved past God. The primary reason God has been pushed out is because of our own wealth and affluence.

In Proverbs, we see that affluence and humility are not good mixes. The more stuff we have, the more we tend to give ourselves credit, the less humble we are and the more we push out God.
"Give me neither poverty nor riches, but only my daily bread." We have far more than we need as a nation. Increasingly, as a nation, we continue asking "Who is God?" We've become less dependent on Him, more arrogant because of "our own achievements" and hence, not in need of God. The reason we have moved God out is because we have been so incredibly blessed by Him!

In Deuteronomy 8:6, Moses is about to lead the former Israelite slaves into the Promised Land, but before they enter, Moses wants to remind the people there's two things they have to remember;

1) There's law
2) There's accountability to God

Our forefathers stated that we would be a nation not of a king, but a nation in awe of God. Moses, as the leader of Israelite's Exodus, warned the people as they reached the Promised Land. He implored them, that when they were blessed, not to forget the Lord God. Moses knew that prosperity and humility don't coincide very well. He warned that, with prosperity, they would lose their humility and forget their need of a God.

"Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. He led you through the vast and dreadful desert, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. He gave you manna to eat in the desert, something your fathers had never known, to humble and to test you so that in the end it might go well with you. You may say to yourself, "My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me."

When we think that all we've accomplished is purely with the strength of our own hands, we are at that moment not accountable to anyone. When we are unaccountable, we become more unjust as we look out more and more for our own interests. When a nation loses any sense of divine accountability, it becomes more and mores unjust to its people. Read about history. The natural overflow of unaccountability to God is the exit of justice. Free enterprise, capitalization the American way of life is awesome until we lose God. Then free enterprise becomes an excuse to hoard as the executives of AIG did. At this point, "free enterprise" becomes a symbol of injustice because of the hoarding. The only way to push back on hoarding and injustice is to then impose more laws in an attempt to "legislate morality". But with so many laws that can be broken even because people are unaware that such laws exist, that is when a nation loses its freedom. The American view of life is wonderful until we factor God out. Injustice becomes part of the culture. We forget our God.

"But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today."

If any nation in the world believes this, it should be us. It should be America because we have truly been a blessed nation. It is God who designed our nation.

"If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed. Like the nations the LORD destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the LORD your God."

At this point, we might say to ourselves, "Boy, I'm glad we're not a nation that had a covenant with God! I'm glad I'm not an Israelite! Does God really punish destroy a nation because it pushes him out? Read history; it happened time and time again. Israel was eventually destroyed. Perhaps the arrogance that comes along with forgetting the Lord our God doesn't need the overt intentional judgment of God, perhaps it carries an intentional judgement of its own. Maybe a lack of humility has its own implications. Perhaps it's just sowing and reaping. Moses reminded the people that, like nations before them, there would be a price to pay for leaving out God. It was ultimately the people's decision.

The sad thing, but the hopeful thing, is it doesn't have to be this way. We can try to factor God back into the equation. What's more, it hasn't always been this way. Andy loves to read history. Several years ago, Andy read Steven Ambros book, "D-Day". It is a big thick book about all the minutia leading up to D-Day. Ambros outlined the U.S. build-up prior to our invasion of France. It was known that we would attack France, but the secret was when and where we would strike. So on June 6, 1944, when we finally launched the invasion, the news was announced on the radio that the invasion had begun. Instinctively, when our nation became aware of the news, despite our amazing military of 130,000 trained troops and 250,000 other people who had mobilized to support the troops, there wasn't a sense of a national question, "Who is the Lord?" In fact, it was quite the opposite of today. On D-Day President Franklin Roosevelt used the radio to gather everyone and lead them in a national prayer. Can you imagine? The nation, as a nation, prayed, despite our own careful plans, despite our powerful military and despite our advanced technology. We prayed.

Here is (a segments of) that prayer;

"Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor. Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith. These men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home. Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom. And, O Lord, give us faith. Give us faith in Thee; faith in our sons; faith in each other. Thy will be done, Almighty God. Amen.
Franklin D. Roosevelt - June 6, 1944

The New York Daily News threw out their other articles and printed the Lord's Prayer on the front of the newspaper. The company Lord and Taylor never opened that day. The president of the company sent all employees home to pray. The New York Stock Exchange paused for two minutes to pray. The editors of the NYT printed we pray for the boys. Special church services took place across the nation. In Columbus, Ohio, the mayor used sirens as a call for the entire city to stop in prayer.

We understood that even with our great military might, we still NEEDED the Lord. Not everyone agreed with the endeavor. There was conflict, but the people came together. A few years later, we witnessed the Civil Rights movement led by Martin Luther King. Our nation came to a point where we understood that principles of scripture should impact the law of our nation. Luther appealed to our national conscience. Even thought it was different and uncomfortable, King was right according to scripture.

On August 28, 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial, King spoke the words of his most famous speech, "Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed, (quoting from the Declaration of Independence) "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." Then, Martin Luther King closed with a line we all know by heart, "Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last."

Aren't you glad that after the second World War, a group rose up and said we can't talk about God in politics law and social civil service? These people said all we need is a court, a system and laws. They think we can justly rule ourselves. But, if there had not been a national conscience during the Civil Rights Movement, there very well might not have been a Civil Rights Movement!

The leverage point during these important times in history was our understanding that God created all of us equally. To remove Him is extraordinarily dangerous. We only have to look at history to see where that leads. To do so will leave us looking at ourselves, our arrogance. We think we can become unaccountable to God, but it has consistently led to injustice. It leads to moral ambiguity, which leads to the erosion of civil rights.

This is not the time to lose heart or to be afraid. We should be afraid of our own arrogance which leaves us asking "Who is the Lord?". It leads us to abandon the notion that God blesses.
Maybe it's time to end our prayers with, instead "God Bless America", with a sincere appeal to God to bless our nation despite it's gradual rejection of Him.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Does Anyone Remember the Official U.S. Motto?

Opening his two-part series, "God and Country", Andy Stanley talks about how many of us have had a few conversations with the television screen, because we agree or disagree with something we see. Many of us think that if Washington would give us an hour of their time, we could solve so much. There are many debates that we could talk about or argue. "I think there is another debate going on behind the scenes that we need to talk about", says Andy. Every once in a while, in the life of a nation, a social issue will intersect with the Bible. When these crossroads take place, sometimes it's up to us to speak up. Andy originally thought this idea would only require one week's attention, but there was so much information that he made it into two.

At the heart of this issue is our national conscience. We all have a conscience individually and God speaks to us through it. Sometimes, though, we can become calloused to our conscience. In our society, we have collective conscience which can be family values or a corporate culture. This can be easily seen when a family with one set of values gets together with a family of another set of values. Such value conflicts might surface in the areas of language, television/movie filters, video games, music or alcohol. "I was actually recently in the reverse of that which was a little embarrassing." Andy and his family got together with another family who found that movies and video games in his house weren't as tightly screened as they were in their house.

In addition to a family conscience or a corporate culture, our nation has a collective conscience. "How many of you, if you knew you could get by with it, would still hesitate to take a big bag of fast food trash and throw it out the window on the way down the highway?" Virtually no one would do this because we, in the U.S., are very litter conscious. This is simply an area of the national conscience that has been drilled down into us as a society. It is one of our do's and don'ts.

The anti-slavery movement in England and the U.S. was led by the conscience of these two countries. The civil rights movement was another example of a war of conscience. Laws and regulations of change were made as a result. Abortion has been another example of degrees of tolerance, which the nation has accepted. Child pornography is wrong in our society. Men in our society don't marry 11 year old children. You can't marry 3 wives in our country. But what are our values based on? Why the high cringe factor when we talk about the legalization of drugs? Child labor laws are strict in our civilized society. We have naturally developed an "ought to be" conscience as a nation.

There are two general observations of a conscience:

1) When there is a strong collective conscience about something, you don't have to have a lot of rules because everything is more or less understood. In a healthy community, there simply don't have to be a lot of rules. If it is understood, for example, that stealing is inherently wrong, then there don't have to be rules to outline specifically when stealing has actually taken place. If stealing is not understood, then we are likely to be over legislated. The reason that laws are getting out of hand in our modern day is because the courts are now trying to legislate morality. Imagine a society where we define our conscience by what a court says!

2) A conscience has to be informed. Someone taught us that littering was wrong. In Romans, Paul is talking to a group of people who didn't have biblical laws . Romans 2:14-15, "Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them." This talks about how, in the absence of laws, the moral conscience takes over.

Now, we have a national conscience, but what originally informed it? A sense of personal and corporate accountability to God, our Creator. In general, it was established by a general sense that there is a God. "I'm not arguing that the founding fathers were all Christians", but Andy is stating that there was a general sense of a Creator. Look at the Declaration of Independence. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; life liberty and the pursuit of happiness." These men were saying "we are going to start a nation. We are going to break off from England and we are going to outline our identity as a nation." The second line of the Declaration of Independence invokes the presence of a God!

There was some hypocrisy of these values when slavery arose, which eventually led to the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg address includes, "that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom." President Lincoln voiced the notion that we are a nation under God. In the 1950's, the phrase "one nation under God" was put into the Pledge of Allegiance. Then, just 53 years ago, something happened that eludes many of us. Our country got a brand new motto. On July 30, 1956, the 84th Congress declared it's official motto, under President Eisenhower, was to be "In God We Trust"!!

If tomorrow, you walked into Home Depot as an employee and yelled, "You can do it", the response would be "And we can help". If you walked in to the offices of the University of Georgia and yelled, "Go...", others would respond, "Dogs!" If you yelled, "Eat..." in a Chic-Fil-A office, you'd hear "...More Chicken!"

But what if every principle of every public school got on the PA system and said, "Kids, we trust God"? Can you imagine? There would be lawsuits everywhere! It's the national motto!! We have drifted so far away from God talk in our society, we can no longer say it in our institutions. Now it's strange if a public school teacher said the U.S. motto. God has, over time, been pushed further and further to the side. Did you know that every year, there is a group who sues to take the "So help me God" part out of the official oath. Why? It probably isn't the concerted effort by individuals to eliminate God. It could largely be part of the fact that some people, in the name of God, have done some ridiculous stuff.

Why is this subject so important? The reason is our national conscience is tied to the existence and the presence and the centrality of God. It has everything to do with how we view Do's and Don'ts of our society. As God is moved aside, we lose much of our sense of accountability to God. And if God, then, is no longer central to our conscience, something else has to take its place.

This is a debate between the grateful and the accountable to God, versus the ungrateful and unaccountability to God. For the ungrateful and unaccountable, in their heart of hearts, they don't feel accountable to anyone. If you take God out, there is no accountability. Look at your own life when there wasn't God in your life. Do you remember how you lived? Are we going to be a nation of gratitude and accountability or is it going to be a nation of "In We We Trust"? If we can pull God back to the center, we can finally reestablish the foundation of our national conscience.

"If our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is tied to Creator God and we remove Creator God from the dialogue, then what is the new basis or protection for those rights? We don't know where it will go, but we do have the clues as to where it has gone in other countries. Typically, when it falls onto regulations and laws, eventually those rights go away.

Homework from Andy's message which he request is for us to try and recall the last time a President prayed in public. Also, he asks if we will ask others what our national motto is just to gauge awareness.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Who Would Sell God's Children?

It's interesting to be back in America after you've been in a foreign country. It's odd to come back to cars and air conditioning. For the last year, Johnson Bowie has been on this quest fighting human trafficking. About a year ago, he picked up this book called "Not For Sale" on his way back Nicaragua. God gripped him because there is still slavery in America. It is the number two or three top criminal enterprise in the world behind the drug trade. It is a $31 billion a year business with over 27 million people in slavery as we speak. Slaves can be child soldiers, physical slaves or sex slaves. Last year, David Batstone, the author of the book, actually came and spoke at Fusion and talked about a project, the "Veronica House".

"Veronica" was the name of a little 10 or 12 year old girl who, by some circumstance, ended up on the streets of Peru selling candy and hats to buy books for school. One day, while she was out selling, some "friends" gave her clothes to look better so that she could sell more candy. But that night, the "friends" came back and told her she owed them money for the dress. The next night, she was raped by more than 10 men to pay. Veronica was able to break away one time to go see Lucy, a local hero of children on the streets, but there wasn't enough room in Lucy's shelter, so Veronica was sent back for a short while after being told she could return in a few weeks. But two weeks later, she was found strangled to death by a john in a hotel room.

So, Johnson and his team went to visit the Veronica House. On the way, Eric, one of his team members, had had a dream that a little girl was being raped in the street and people were just walking by, not doing anything about it and not even paying attention. The girl looked right at Eric and said, "Is there no one who will stand up to this?"

It was a little heavy when Johnson left. His team loaded up on a plane to go down to Lima to see Lucy. They knew it wasn't going to be a normal mission trip. They went prepared to do whatever they had to in order to help. Lucy is sort of the Mother Theresa of Lima. Children would pour out from the streets to hug her when she came around. At one point, a commotion arose when Johnson's team was there. Children are told not to sell in the streets and a policeman was confiscating candy and hats. Lucy stormed out and put the officer in his place.

In 1991, the president of Peru decided he was going to "cleanse" the streets. After the announcement, kids were turning up dead in the streets. The government was literally killing them! One night, Lucy, a lawyer at the time, gave a couple of kids her card saying, "If you need a place to stay, come and bring your friends if you need to." But when Lucy came back by her office, there were over 600 kids piled in the room!! This was where Johnson and his team went to visit. He also went out into the streets to see the river banks where the kids slept, to see the cardboard box homes and to see the kids huffing glue bags to ease the pain. They heard about how the government handed out food, but had put broken glass in the sandwiches. They saw the scars all over the kids' arms from where they would cut themselves so the police wouldn't touch them because they were covered with blood.

Lucy would cry while telling a story about how a boy made a Mother's Day card for his mother. Lucy encouraged the boy to give the card to his mother, but instead he gave the card to Lucy because he said she was the closest thing he'd ever had to a mother. Only a few days later, the boy was killed while crossing the street.

Lucy told Johnson about the "Magdalene House" which she had opened to more than 200 street kids, but said that the government had shut the house down when some rich neighbors complained about it. This forced the kids back into the streets and since then, several have already died.

Johnson and his team went with Lucy to talk to the teenage prostitutes on the streets. There, they met Eve. Eve was kidnapped, tortured and raped one night by a john, who was caught and was sent to prison. But now Eve can't sleep in the same place on any given night because she found out that the john's family is trying to kill her.

Johnson met Tulo, who was raped and put into sexual slavery. She ended up getting an infection that nullified all of her reproductive organs. They met Lucero, a very pretty girl. There's something wrong if you are pretty on the streets because someone will take you. A family actually took her and made her their slave. There was a mother, father and the daughter was Lucero's pimp! They owned her. She's now trapped in the cycle of this life. She has to pay for the street corner she's forced to stand on, pay for the hotel room she's raped in and pay for the clothes she has to buy to find new "clients". Lucero ended up getting pregnant and so her girl pimp kicked her over and over again in the stomach to induce an abortion. No amount of money could pay to get these girls off the streets because of the system.

While they were there, a story came out in the newspaper saying, "Sluts Don't Even Honor Good Friday". It had a picture of the very people Johnson was sitting with on the front. The girls were hurt and angry because the newspaper didn't understand that these children didn't have a choice and even hated life on the street. Driving down the street at midnight, Johnson's team saw car after car after car; literally hundreds, lined up waiting for girls to come available for the night.

Every Easter, these kids pull out pictures of kids they know who've died on the streets. At this point, Johnson shows these pictures to his audience. He points out a baby who died of AIDS. There was a 4 year old who was taken, raped and killed. Only a few months later, both parents died of tuberculosis. Stopping at another slide, Johnson shows a 24 year old man with his daughter, Tatyana. Talking with him, Johnson learned that his daughter died while he was in prison. Sometimes, policemen would shoot kids just for being where they shouldn't be in the streets.

On one day, Johnson was able to stand in front of these kids and open up the Bible to Genesis 39, where Joseph was taken, sold into slavery and thrown into prison. These kids didn't know the stories of the Bible, but there was something magnetic about the Word. He promised them that, like with Joseph, God had not forgotten them and the Lord was with them. This was on Easter Sunday that he was telling them this! But one kid said, "You don't understand. People don't come to see us. Why would you come to see us?" Johnson said it was because he wanted them to know God had not forgotten them.

One kid named Ruben and his brother grew up being repeatedly raped by their father. His father would send them out into the streets to earn or beg for money and they would not be allowed home until they returned with the money. Ruben was gay and sat down with them to explain the unbelievable events in his life. After everything that he shared and everything that was forced on him as a child, Ruben asked Johnson to pray with him and then he asked if Johnson thought God could forgive him... Reuben, that night, asked Christ into his heart.

There was another home where about 20 kids were staying. One of the kids' mothers were on the street prostituting herself and the kids went and got her off the street! While they were at this home, a license was revoked for the home to stay open, but God opened the doors to keep it going. Meanwhile, the Veronica House is almost finished, but not quite. But for every night it is not finished, the girls who know about it have to go back out into the streets and prostitute themselves again.

Johnson's team had an itinerary while they were there. There were some listed events and sights they were going to see as part of their trip, but there came a point where they had to stop themselves and decide if they were missionaries or tourists. When they decided they were missionaries, that is when they were forever moved by what they saw and heard.

The itinerary our world sets for us here in the U.S. is 1) Get a good education 2) Get a good job. 3) Make a lot of money. 4) Get a nice home. 5) Have kids. 6) Give them a good education. This is a cycle that doesn't end. The reality check here is "Is this all that God has lined up for us?" Will we go 60 years on the world's path or go on God's path? When will our lives matter? When will we decide we have a life of mission and not a life as a tourist? There is a bigger plan!

1 Peter 1:13 says "Prepare your minds for action". Something amazing happens on a mission trip. Do you know why? You are there for a reason! You have a mission! What if we woke up with a mind of action and mission every single day? What would happen if we started living life ON PURPOSE. Ephesians 5:15 says, "Be very careful how you live".

Smith Wigglesworth was a plumber in the early 1900's who wrote devotionals. One of his stories was titled "Opportunity for Action". Someone told him they were going to have some entertainment and wanted him to come asking if he had a talent. Smith said the he would come and sing. When he got there, he sang a song of praise to God which ended up turning the dance into an opportunity where 6 young men came to Christ.

Mother Theresa once said, "If you can't feed a hundred, feed one."

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Who Was the Boy Named Jesus?

We have a Sunday school idea of Jesus, don't we? The angel came to Mary and Joseph with the news of her pregnancy and they were thinking, "Oh, Sweet". Then, just like that, they end up in a barn having a party with shepherds who bring presents. We remember something about how Jesus was left in a Temple and his parents come back in about five minutes. When God proclaimed Jesus as His Son, Jesus then went from village to village walking on water and healing sick people, right? Who is the person of Jesus to us? A guy that always took short cuts across the water? Oft times, we hear the story of Him, but we keep him at a distance, like He's a divine robot. But are we overemphasizing Jesus' deity? We tend to think of Jesus as 98% God and 2% human. But Jesus was supernaturally a HUMAN BEING with human experiences.

In the second message, "Son of Blessing", of his series "Hello, My Name is Jesus", Johnson Bowie delivers a POWERFUL message about Jesus and His relationship to His Father. I was weeping over this one! John 1, starts with "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning." Jesus knew He was God, but Hebrews 2:14-18 clearly outlines the human side of God with clear human attributes. He "took on him the seed of Abraham", not the "nature of angels".

Being part man and part God is as hard for us to understand as the Trinity. We can try to make diagrams, but it doesn't really help. Jesus was 100% God and 100% man. These two natures are united without mixture. But we tend to think these to things just don't mix; God and man combined. So, Jesus was God, but He was hungry, tempted and thirsty. Jesus aged. He felt rejected. He felt loved and betrayed. He felt every single emotion that we've ever been through (yet He was without sin). 100% God. 100% Man. It is very difficult to understand how our God could die in our world! But because of this, Jesus can identify with us.

Johnson asks us to take a different and new look at Jesus' early days; His fully God, fully human experience. Mary was pregnant when she and Joseph traveled 60 to 80 miles to Bethlehem. She was probably in pain, uncomfortable and they were likely fearful of what was to come. Can you imagine what Joseph must have gone through when he learns Mary was pregnant? What a heartbreak and a confusing experience! It also had to be humbling because everyone knew she had gotten pregnant. He likely got to the point where He didn't judge others or care what others thought. This view on life was likely passed on to Jesus in large part because of His parents. After his birth in the desert in a barn, it was likely uncomfortable.

Shepherds, who were "ceremonially unclean" because of their occupations were the first to visit Jesus. The wise men brought gold which is what you usually brought a king, frankincense which is what you typically would burn to a deity and myrrh, which was a spice you would embalm a body with. It was honoring and strangely foreshadowing of Jesus' death. Isn't it amazing that 25 years goes by and very little is mentioned in between? What is that about? Wouldn't you think that there would be regular recordings of the life of the Messiah? In retrospect, its easy to ask, but JESUS WAS LIKE EVERYBODY ELSE. Bowie is funny and starts talking about all the things that were probably different from what we think today because of historical evidence. Jesus probably had short hair and He was probably a stone worker, not a carpenter. Interesting stuff. If Jesus had been born today, He would probably be the guy who looks like everyone else and works everyday and goes home. He experienced cuts, hurts and disappointments.

At this point, Bowie goes into this long explanation of the bar mitzvah of Jesus. We don't know if Joseph was alive or not because he had died sometime before Jesus was 30. But Joseph could not have genuinely proclaimed Jesus his son or as a man because he wasn't truly the father. The other children of Joseph had the privilege of knowing Joseph was their dad, but not Jesus. He certainly knew degrees of rejection. Can you imagine Jesus, when it took Mary and Joseph 3 days to find Him? He was in His "Father's House" and it had to be emotional for Him because He longed for His true Father's presence. He longed for His Father's approval.

The first time Jesus probably heard directly from His Father was when He was baptized by John the Baptist. God said, "This is my Son in whom I am well pleased." It had to be an amazing moment: an amazing affirmation. It might well have been the same affirmation that we all need from our fathers. But after 30 years of degrees of rejection and a sense of not belonging, here was His moment to hear from God.

Bowie closes by talking about how Jesus led by example in showing us that we can have a Heavenly Father who will respond to us as God did to Jesus. Time and time again, the Bible talks about us as sons and daughters of God made in His image. We can know as Jesus grew up truly knowing God was Divinely Dad.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

What Does "Blessed are the Persecuted" Mean?

"Anybody not know what today is? It's Easter." It's the day that celebrates how the Creator of the Universe walked among us and was crucified. It was on Easter that it was discovered that this man Jesus had risen from the dead. Isn't it amazing how, 2000 years later, we are still celebrating the resurrection of this man? How incredulous and absurd is the concept that a man could conquer death! Some of the most educated, affluent and free thinking people history has ever known are still astonished by this event.

Over the last several weeks, Erwin McManus has been talking about this man Jesus and how He didn't appeal to wealth, power or success. The Beattitudes are human characteristics given by Jesus about what it means to follow Him. Surprising His audience, He described the attributes of being truly human as things that those who were expecting a new King would not have thought were characteristic.

Everyone who was listening may have been kept a bit off balance by who Jesus called to be with Him. What does "Blessed are those who are persecuted" mean? For each of the Beattitudes Jesus gives a different result, But after saying, blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, Jesus says "For theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven" once again just as He did after saying this about the "poor in spirit". This suggests a relationship between the poor in spirit and those persecuted for righteousness.
If we were trying to start a movement and trying to call followers, we would move Jesus out of marketing and maybe into filing. We would not campaign with attributes like the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful or those who are persecuted. We would do everything we could to doll up some of the things that Jesus says because these attributes are not what we value. Yet, on the flip side, Jesus isn't baiting and switching. He's not deceiving. He says that this journey will require tremendous strength. He tells us that we are capable of living a life that is way beyond our capacity if we would just follow Him. He doesn't promise us that all of our problems will go away, but He does promise a better way to live.

Jesus talks about the extraordinary life we can live if we will just engage Him. Blessed are those who are persecuted. Sometimes we use this phrase carte blanche in viewing our lives as being persecuted. "I'm having a bad day because I'm being persecuted." But arrogance may often be the reason we are experiencing persecution. We can get wrapped up in our own self-righteousness, so others begin to fight back. Somewhere along the line, we became obsessed with winning and seeing that we are right as Christians and that others are wrong. So, we begin to use political might to push what we think is God's agenda and then we are surprised when those fighting back use politics to retaliate. We can be stubborn and claim that we are being "persecuted" because of our beliefs when often times it is simply our arrogance.

Sometimes, we have bad experiences, not because of arrogance, but because of stupidity. In the past week, Erwin was very sick. He couldn't breathe well and laid in bed Monday, then Tuesday, then Wednesday. Laying in bed for three days drove Erwin crazy because he's an active person. So he called his friends to play basketball, but his wife, Kim, found out about it and insisted that he not play. Erwin cancelled, but then secretly rescheduled for Friday morning. So, going against his wife's advice, he secretly played that morning. But after he played, his leg was really hurting him. Seeking empathy from his wife, he mentioned to her his injury, but she focused instead on his poor decision to play (she intuitively knew). If he was making poor decisions and simply suffering the consequences, why should she be empathetic? Sometimes that's the way it is in life. If we make stupid decisions and then simply suffer the consequences, there's no blessing in that. It is what it is even though we sometimes hide it under the auspices of persecution.


Remembering back a few years ago when he had the privelege of traveling the world, Erwin, for some reason could not recall his experiences in Cambodia. He thinks this may partly have been because there was so much hard stuff to see. Sickness, missing limbs, starvation and hopelessness. As if that wasn't bad enough, he went to see a place called "the Killing Fields", which was a place to remember the thousands of people who were slaughtered. Sometimes, people are the innocent victims of horrible crimes, but even this is not persecution.

In summary, Jesus is not talking about persecution that we deserve, nor is he talking about persecution imposed on us by unjust people. What Jesus is talking about here is the persecution we experience because of our decisions made in love. He wasn't talking about an elusive allegory, He was talking about our lives as well as His own. The end of Jesus' life would itself be the worst persecution of all, but the most beautiful as well. It was a story of love. A story where sacrifice was a privelege for the object of God's love, us.

Jesus calls us to lead a life that is beautiful and true, yet a disturbance of status quo. The Ten Commandments were the picture of the minimum standards to be human, but the Beattitudes were the ways Jesus calls us to live our lives. The lie that "Jesus promises no more problems" couldn't be more of a deception. Jesus calls us to trust Him in our most painful moments because it teaches us how to live and how to find beauty in life even in the worst times.

Erwin was sitting with a friend recently talking about the movie set his friend was working on, "The Day the Earth Stood Still". During a break, someone went up to Keanu Reeves and asked him to sign their bible. Keanu looked Erwin's friend, Scott, and said, "Wow, this has never happened before". A short while later, while strolling through the city, Scott pointed out to Keanu a church tower with a cross and said, "Isn't that beautiful?" to which Keanu replied "Not really". But Scott engaged him asking, "If you understood (Jesus) was dying on that to save your wife and children, wouldn't it be beautiful?" Keanu agreed that Scott was right. If we don't understand why the crucifixion happened, it is most tragic and horrific. But if we do understand that His death was a choice so that we could be free to live in the fullness of life, that cross becomes the ultimate mark of beauty. It is a great example of how our lives can reflect beauty in persecution.
Erwin grew up Catholic. Along the way, he went to a few (Catholic) Easter services. At a certain age, though, someone invited him to a non-Catholic Easter service. But this particular service really focused on the man of Jesus. As Erwin was looking around, he saw a cross with no Jesus which is atypical in the Catholic church. His thought was that someone forgot to put the Jeus oon the cross. S o, he asked a girl next to him, "Where's Jesus?" The girl, realizing what he was asking, said, "He rose from the dead. He's not on the cross anymore." It was the first time Erwin felt like he really "got it". To him, this was the great mystery unraveled.

No one realized or guessed that they could actually see and touch their God as a man as Jesus. No one ever saw it coming that we would actually turn on Him and crucify Him. But it all came to light when He rose from the Dead. "Blessed are the pesrsecuted" is the only attribute where Jesus elaborates. He implies that we are going to get a strange reaction from living a life of beauty, truth and love. We have to live a life that is connected to that which is eternal to follow Him. But why would anyone oppose us with these attributes? The reason is that it obstructs the status quo.

If we were to choose evil we could choose to live like Hitler, Stalin, Manson etc. or other personifications of the worst of humanity. Or we could choose a life that reflects the image and likeness of God, fueled by love. But if we choose this life, it will bring the disdain of those who have chosen the other life. And if we want to avoid problems altogether, we can choose the meaningless, ordinary and mundain goopy life in between. This, unfortunately, is where most in the world choose to live. But when we choose to move to the higher plain, we disrupt the common.

Erwin still remembers the night he chose to trust Jesus. It became a struggle to accept the reality of Jesus and then the imposing nature of God. Since Aug 20, 1978, his life has never been the same. But while it was intimate, it was never meant to be private. If Jesus calls us to an intentional life of meaning, we need to understand that it isn't a private calling.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

How Can I Have a Good Dating Life?

So, you're in the club, you're dressed to impress, the music is going and you look across the dance floor and meet eyes with the guy or girl at the other end of room. The two of you make your way through the crowd and meet in the middle of the crowd. The guy says hello and the girl is thinking, "We could have beautiful children together." (Girls are bad about this). She is already thinking about baby names, the picnic in the mountaintop and the long life loved on your deathbeds. Quick rewinding back to the dance floor, the introduction is somehow flubbed and you lose your cool. Then "the One" slips out of your hands and walks away. The problem is, this was the fourth "One" tonight. Isn't this the way it is?

In the first part of his series, "Hitched", Johnson Bowie talks about how we put our hearts on the line and then get punted. Guys practice their horrible cheesy pickup lines. They practice their poses and the way they hold their drinks to get their foot in the door. Then, they go out and try to find "the One"". Johnson went online to find "Christian" cheesy pickup lines and found. "Hey you want to go back to my place and watch the Ten Commandments?", "I would like to pray with you; just the two of us, I think God would really move." or "You have the body of Amy Grant and the soul of Mother Theresa." ("Um, you don't want to get this one mixed up") "Hey, my friend told me to come up and talk with you. He said you were really cool and his name is Jesus". This sounds funnier from Johnson than it reads.

But with all the prep and practicing, we still can't seem to find our "One". Statistics tell us that there are more singles today than in any other time in history. We somehow get jaded towards marriage. Clark Warren, from EHarmony stated that the average number of dates a person goes through are 100 dates with 100 different people before they tie the knot! "Man, some of y'all are like dating maniacs!" That's a lot of restaurants, bad pick up lines, sweaty palms, movie dates and dumped lines. Anybody know what the worst dump line is? "It's not you, it's me." It's the most confusing conversation in the world. It starts with, "The time we've spent together has been amazing, you're the best person ever and I've never met anyone like you.....BUT" We all know that what they're really saying is, "It really is you".

The simple fact is, we all want someone who will love us for who we are. We want someone who will give us butterflies, someone who will make our palms sweaty or someone who short circuits our brain. We want to know HOW to get this, but then we want to know HOW to keep it going. What is wrong with us in relationships? Why do we "kill the sale" so often? In the following weeks, Johnson hopes to "Maybe equip us to avoid some of those circumstances...we're gonna be talking about getting hitched." We are going to move each week through the different phases of dating. Every person has their two cents to put in about dating. Johnson, in preparing for his series, found that there are also many, many books on dating. The feedback we get in society can be overwhelming. "You should date. You shouldn't date. Marriage will solve your problems. Love always grows." Who do we listen to?

How many times do we want to get rid of this "gift" of singleness? The bible says, "Rejoice in the wife of your youth." Yes, DO Take advantage of your time when you're single, but when the situation presents itself, DON'T RUN. Who says singleness is a gift? The married people! Oprah, Dr. Phil and Judge Judy all put in their two cents about dating. But no one has to live with the consequences of our decisions! Right? Our friends can't take responsibility for bad decisions we make or even advice we take from them.

Maybe its time to stop looking at the tabloids for advice. Maybe we should go to the source of good relationships, the Bible. Maybe we should know that God wants us to get married and that maybe Genesis 2:18, "It is not good for man to be alone." Why do we think that God feels betrayed when we find somebody? God said this in Genesis when it was just God and Adam walking through the Garden. God created marriage so that we could have someone to share our lives with. Genesis 2:19-25 talks about God created Eve. God made a woman for Adam and brought her to him. Can you imagine when Adam first saw her? He had to be pumped! Immediately after God's creation of the two, it says they were naked, BUT they were not ashamed. God wants us to be married! He has a plan for us. Nobody wants to be divorced and God doesn't want that for us either. God doesn't want us, even in dating, to have screwed up relationships.

(This hilarious video says it all...

So how do we go about it? It's like there needs to be a warning label on some relationships, because people can do stupid things. Right? Why do you think there are warning labels on lawn mowers that say "Do not put hand under mower while blade is spinning"? Why do fruit roll up boxes say "Remove plastic before eating"? Why do strollers have warnings, "Remove child before folding up for storage"? People do stupid stuff! Someone has actually done these things.

Society says full steam ahead and go for it, while God might be saying, "Ease it back, move slowly..." God can save us some huge heartaches if we'll just listen. Johnson suggests several things that God might say to us about dating.

1) Be careful where you look. You probably wouldn't go to Antarctica looking for buried treasure, right? So, why do we go into places to pick up the kind of people that probably aren't there? If we go to a meat market, we are going to get a meat market person. Years ago, when he went out of town, Johnson and some friends went into a nightclub. He was in a committed relationship for the first time with Summer, who is now his wife, so he wasn't used to being in a position of compromise. A hot girl approached him and asked, "Hey, you want to dance?" In a funny rehash of what he was thinking at the time, Johnson says he declined. "She looked at me like, 'Oh no you didn't just turn down the hottest girl in this bar'". After he said "no", his friend, who was waiting "on deck", jumped in and saved him. Another funny point in the message is Johnson's proud phone call back to his girlfriend to tell her what he had accomplished.

What about online dating? EHarmony is the #1 online Christian dating service. That's good and everything, but doesn't it seem like we're taking God out of the equation? In a dating service, we post our bios, our doctored photos and our resumes. Then people shop. "Online dating is like looking through a garbage can for a ham sandwich". We have to go through a lot of stuff, pick out the bad parts and the ham sandwich doesn't even taste that good. According to research done by the Marriage Project, 60% of people who were married met through introductions by friends and family. You're not going to find an elephant in the ocean, right? It just isn't natural.

2) Guard your heart - Proverbs 4:23 - Some people are so desperate for another person, that as soon as another person comes into their life, they are all over them! The other person is taken back thinking, "Whoa, I thought we were just going out for coffee". There's a reason romance novel relationships work. They're romance novels! In real life, people have crusties and it's hard.

3) Know that you're valuable - You are the most valuable thing in the universe because you are made in God's image. And "it's not because you're hot". You are valuable, not because you are just attractive to look at, but because you have the love of the Father. Psalms 139 talks about how we are "fearfully and wonderfully made". We need to ask ourselves, "Who am I becoming?" What we don't realize sometimes is that we are still "Works in progress". God is concerned about the here and now for us as it says in Phil 1:6. He is concerned about who we are becoming. We definitely need to understand that God is not overly concerned about us meeting someone. He is much more concerned about our being.

On the dating scene, we are out there wearing ourselves out trying to find the "One", while we are less concerned about asking ourselves the question, "Are WE the One?" When we are a work in progress and understand that, we can really make an informed decision about our relationships. If we reflect on our relationships and, if we only see jerks and bad memories, we have to ask ourselves "What is the common denominator is?.....It's US!!! What is in us? Isn't that a valid question for God?

"Anyone ever watch the show 'What Not To Wear'?" These people bring in the people who think they are the hottest people who wear terrible clothes. The bad part about the show is that their friends turn them in! Then, when the hosts put the "red jacket from the 80's" in front of the 360 degree mirror, the guests begin to see what is wrong with their styles.

4) Find out what is preventing us from becoming who God wants us to be. What would be a great exercise for us as Christians is to ask our friends what it is about us that we could work on that is keeping us from being the person that God wants us to be. This is a tough exercise, but we need to reassure our friends that we will grit our teeth, sit back and hear the painful truth. "Tell me what people want to tell me". Once we hear what someone has to say, we should probably then get affirmation from another friend so that we can be sure. Focusing on becoming someone who people are attracted to is much more important than finding someone who is attractive.

5) Where is the starting line? Ask ourselves the tough questions about our walk with God. "Am I a person of passion for the love of God?" "Has God ever started anything in me?" A guy or a girl may be with us for a few weeks or month, but God will be with us forever. The saddest thing in the world is not being rejected by someone or sitting at home alone, but it is not living the life that the God of the Universe designed for us to live!

Monday, April 13, 2009

What Is the History of the Cross?

For his Easter message, "The Final Hours" at, Andy Stanley opens by talking about the symbolism of the cross. The cross is such a familiar icon, but the difference between our associations with the cross is so extremely far removed from the association made in the first century. In some ways we really do a disservice to our faith by using the cross as a symbol. The significance of the cross is lost on us because crucifixions stopped centuries ago.

Interestingly, the cross did not become a symbol of Christianity for 300 years after Christ died! In fact, for a time following the crucifixion, it was against the law for Christians to draw a cross or to put it into the form of art because they knew how torturous a crucifixion was. There was nothing glamorous, romantic, artistic or spiritual about the cross. It is quite different today, but not in the first century. It was something you didn't look at. It was a symbol of suffering and shame; the degradation of humanity. If anything, men would protect their children from seeing such a site. The cross was used as a form of execution by Alexander the Great and for 300 years past Christ in the Roman empire. It became a symbol of mass execution. If you saw the movie "Spartacus", when the slave rebellion led by Spartacus was finally contained, they crucified his each of his troops and posted the crosses at the point of battle all the way down the road leading to Rome. It was a display of over 6,000 men hanging from the crosses. It wasn't a hidden execution or far away. Crucifixes where put up at main thoroughfares, such as major intersections, bridges and outside the marketplace. Rome wanted people to see what would happen to people who would rebel. Crucifixions were a billboard for the strength and might of the Roman empire. Romans were never crucified. Crucifixions were reserved for slaves and enemies of Rome.

So, crosses were certainly symbolically different back then than in our time. There were thousands and thousands of men crucified outside the walls of Jerusalem during the Jewish war around 60 or 70 AD. This was when Rome finally destroyed Jerusalem. On one particular day, over 500 people were crucified on a scaffolding. The Romans soldiers had to stop, at one point, because they ran out of wood. Crucifixions were extremely common, yet out of the thousands of crucifixions of their time, the reason the cross is a symbol to us to us today is because of one single crucifixion; that of our Lord Jesus Christ. Around 300 AD, after the elimination of the practice, we began using it as a testament to our faith and we now see the cross everywhere; even wearing it as jewelry.

If we take our understanding of the cross we know today and set it aside, we can focus on the cross as it was understood in Christ's time. Constantine said it was an embarrassment that our Savior died on a cross. Andy moves to the gospels saying that the amazing thing about these books is that the disciples wrote in as much detail as they could to document the greatest story ever told. They included everything they could remember about Christ's life and the crucifixion. While much is described about the ministry of Christ, when He was arrested, the story seemed to go into slow motion, describing much of the courts prosecution. The only way to have Jesus executed was to prove he was an enemy of Rome. The religious leaders had to pin on Jesus a crime, so they pulled in false witnesses. But the testimonies of the witnesses were inconsistent, so they were thrown out. All the while, Jesus waited in silence. Finally, the high priest asked a question that Jesus CHOSE to answer. It was if he waited to because He knew what would happen. The question was, "Are you the Messiah?" The high priest was asking if Jesus was the descendant of David; the King of the Jews. If Jesus said yes, He would be viewed as a threat to Rome.

Mark 15:2-25 continues the story. Pilate couldn't understand why Jesus would not defend Himself. Pilate was amazed. A lesser man would fall to his knees to beg for mercy, to beg for a quick death or to beg to be sold into slavery. Pilate tells Jesus that he has the power to free or crucify Him. Sensing Jesus is innocent, Pilate then begins to look for a way out. It so happend that the trial was taking place during Passover. On this holiday, Pilate would typically earn the favor of the people by releasing someone who was thought to be unjustly imprisoned. So Pilate came up with a plan. He would take someone who was dispised by the people; a man like Barabbas and Pilate would give the people the choice to crucify Barrabas or to crucify Jesus. But the hate of the religious leaders was so intense, it drove the the people to demand the crucifixion of Jesus. Pilot, still seeking to wash his hands of the matter, asked "Why? What crime has he committed?" But the people angrily demanded Jesus death.

So, Pilot had Jesus flogged. In the movie, the "Passion of Christ", it shows the incredible detail of what happens in a flogging. Many people would die at this point. In fact, as part of the flogging process, it was necessary to apoint someone to make sure the person being flogged didn't die. Pilot presented Jesus, after He had been flogged, back to the people, hoping this would be enough to satisfy them, but it wasn't. So, the guards took Jesus, beat Him, put a purple robe around him and placed a crown of thorns on His head, mocking him as the "King of the Jews". There was nothing spiritual, inspiring or romantic about it.
Beaten beyond recognition, Jesus was led to Golgotha, "the place of the skull" and was forced to carry the crossbeam of the cross. Along the way, he was offered wine mixed with myrrh whcih like being offered a narcotic, but Jesus refused it. When we get to the point of crucifixion in Mark, all the detail seems to stop. There was no elaborate description because there was no mystery of a crucifixion. The first century reader knew exactly what happened in a crucifixion. For us, we've never seen nails driven into someone's hands, watched the gasping for final breaths or watched someone bleeding to death.

They laid Jesus down on the crossbeam. The nails in His "hands" were actually driven through the wrist bones. He was then hung from the top of the cross. Now,there are eyewitnesses that were in Auschwitz who said that when the Germans would hang someone by their wrists, without any support from their feet, they would last for only about an hour. This is because you cannot fully exhale in this position. These same eyewitnesses said that if the feet were weighted down ,the victims would die within ten minutes. The Romans didn't want Jesus to die too fast, so they drove the nails into His feet so that He could lift a little higher to stay alive. For about 6 hours, Jesus hung there. He was crucified at roughly 9am and was gone around 3pm. Even in His last moments, Jesus said "into Your hands I commit my spirit", which was another statement of choice by Jesus to die.

Jesus died in the place of rebels and criminals because he chose to, not because others did. Whereas, the cross had been a symbol of punishment, for Christians, it is a symbol of choice by our Savior. CS Lewis once wrote, "the crucifixion did not become common in art until all who saw a real one died off." Jesus paid the price for our sins. This wasn't just any death, it was a horrible death. In Phil 2:8, Paul said that Jesus humbled Himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross.

So, what do we do with this? The symbol of the cross just doesn't do justice to our faith. In the book of Acts, it explains the passion of the people who saw the ultimate price that was paid by their Messiah. For Andy, his response is that he wants to be even more obedient. Every time this story is told, something breaks in the hearts of those who hear it and who may be far away from our Savior. But we have to respond to the story. It is unavoidable and it stands in the middle of history as a reminder of God's love, our rebellion and our forgiveness.

Friday, April 10, 2009

What Does "Blessed Are the Peacemakers" Mean?

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God." That's a pretty huge description for us! We might describe ourselves as Christians, as believers or as followers, but calling ourselves the children of God is huge. This is a term that we normally reserve for Jesus, but Jesus himself refers to us that way! Our natural inclination is to choose a language that keeps us further away from God, while Jesus chooses language that draws us closer. Jesus was saying that we were created to be more like him than we know.

This was a far more common language in Jesus' time, but not popular among Hebrews. All the Caesars of Rome were thought to be sons of God and were thought to someday become gods themselves. Because of the influence of ancient Greece, mythology brought with it the immortal men. The god Odin had a son Thor and Zeus had his son Apollos. Their understanding of God was a human mortal/human mix like Hercules. So, when Jesus provoked this language, there had to be a discomfort among them. The Hebrews believed in only one God and they considered any other claim as heresy.
Have you ever seen a film that was fantastic, but there was a surprise ending that blew you away? But the moment you saw it, you looked back and remembered all the clues and foreshadowing that were intentional but not obvious. No one was imagining back then that God would come down and take on the character of a man. This was, at the time, impossible or unthinkable to think of God being active in this way. But if you went back through time and studied the prophecies, it was almost obvious. Not only did Jesus show up claiming to be Jesus, but He then was telling us who we were supposed to be. If we truly knew we were sons of God or even cousins of God, how would we have used our power and influence? Jesus was telling us that this kind of power, the power reflecting the character of God, looked very different from what we would have normally thought. One of these characteristics was as a Peace maker.

When we think of having the power of God, we don't really go right to "peacemaker", do we? We would much prefer to have "The Three O's" of God:

1) Omnipotence - All powerful

2) Omniscience- All knowing

3) Omnipresence - Being everywhere at all times

But our call, in any part of life is to make peace. You'd think this would be easy, but it's not. We live in world filled with violence. There's violence in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Congo, in Angola and in New Mexico. There's oppression in India. There were officers killed in Oakland, New York and Detroit. Civilians are experiencing mass murders, violence, bitterness, vengeance, war and conflict. Jesus told us there would be wars and yet he tells us to "make" peace.

"In the category of 'making', I seem to be a savant", says Erwin. Some people can create in cooking with almost a natural instinct to prepare elaborate plates. Some can make cabinets or furniture literally from a tree. They can visualize it, put it on paper and create it straight from their minds.

A couple of weeks ago, Erwin was invited by a board member of an organization called DUB to meet him at a convention center for the "DUB Expo". There were hundreds of cars there; amazing cars that had been created or converted. They took a 600k Bentley, cut off the top and made it into a convertible. How can someone convert a pre-made car into art as they had done? It was incredible.

The common characteristic of people that make things is that there is something that someone can see in their minds and they can convert it to the outside and tangible world. See, when Jesus says "blessed are the peacemakers", he was probably not talking about the 6 steps to make peace. Likely, He was speaking to our inner beings where the vision of peace first exists. This is not a concept of what we do, but rather the notion of who we are; people who bring peace with them. Have you ever met someone who brings conflict with them? In their mind, everyone is a fighter, while most people in the room are just victims to their aura! Have you ever met someone who brings stress everywhere with them? These are people can stress you out because it is part of their essence and makes you feel stressed.

We are supposed bring peace with us. There's a BIG difference between peacekeepers and peacemakers. Some people simply avoid conflict and call that peace. But more often than not the problem gets bigger and bigger and bigger. It can get to the point where, if we don't face the conflict, it will face us. It can also become a much larger problem than if we had dealt with the initial conflict. These people think that if we can get everyone to not fight, we have peace. We think that if we have a world of no conflict, that would be the secret to peace. But the truth is the world is a world of conflict.

There are 3 areas where peace and conflict always seem to come to a boil,

1) Economic and financial - Seventy percent of divorces are economically motivated. When money is involved, most of the time conflict arises. The scriptures even say let there be no lending or borrowing of funds.

In junior high, Erwin, his brother and a friend started a company, the Road Runner Lawn Mowing Company. They negotiated, bartered, kept accounts and really had it moving. But the day came when all equipment was paid for and they were winding down the business. After all the money was divvied up, there was a penny left on the table which the friend said was his. Erwin and his brother chided that they were 2/3's owner of the penny as well so it would stay on the table, but the friend seemed adamant that the penny was his. Erwin's mother urged them to give up the penny, but suddenly they found themselves in a conflict simply over the principle. The friend went home mad, told his dad, who then sent the friend back to get it!! Determined, the friend came back and there was this great divide over something as trite as a penny. "I'll never forget it."

2) Human and interpersonal relationships - "Ninety nine percent of all conversations that I've ever had that were in the category of counseling were in the area of interpersonal relationships" You don't see people getting divorces over understanding of scripture. Rather, we spend so much time arguing over little things, which can lead to a life of regret. We focus, not on things that save our lives like scripture, but things that can cause conflict. If we want to be sons and daughters of God, we should do everything possible to maintain PEACE. We have to go to bed knowing we've done what we can to do for the day. We have to go to bed knowing we were able to surrender to our need to win in order to pursue the greater good.

3) Inner peace - There was great stress, frustration, chaos and anger in the area to which Jesus was a speaking regarding peace. "I am astonished at the condition we are in. We are the most educated, affluent free people that the world's history has ever known and yet we have runaway depression and a culture of medication. Dysfunction has become the natural language of our society." Erwin hears about people that have been depressed for 20 years and they're 21 years old! Others can't get out of bed or have suicidal thoughts.

Erwin was sitting at a "celebrate recovery" table at an event for Mosaic and he was smiling thinking that this part of Mosaic's ministry was the fastest growing one. But there was a moment where it struck Erwin that this wasn't something that should be celebrated, because people were falling apart! Do we live with voids of inner peace? People can be paralyzed with stress, anxiety, fear, sadness and doubt. Here we are talking about what God can do in our lives. It's like we have Jesus sketched on our skin but it He doesn't seem to be able to sink into our inner soul

In the book of Isaiah, Jesus is described and the "Prince of Peace". Maybe we need to refocus on scripture to know that He will give inner peace to the person who will follow Him. Economic and financial chaos as well as interpersonal relationship stress can simply be systematic results of a lack of our inner peace. We should understand that making peace is a work of art that comes from the soul. But to make peace, we have to have peace. Logically, we should have the Prince of Peace and allow Jesus to bring peace to our souls.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

When Does God Run?

"We believe that God is real...alive, and...Jesus Christ is His Son...He is the way to eternal life." Johnson Bowie,, continuing with fourth part of his series "Furnace", actually delivers this message off the stage because he wants his audience to know that God, the Creator of the universe, is with us in prayer. When we see someone praying on stage, we tend to relate in our prayer the same way; on stage or at a distance. So, Johnson thought to bring the message physically to the same level of those in the crowd.

Recapping, the first week Johnson talked about Matt 4:4. Jesus says that we need the Word of the Lord for our spirit to live just like we need food to physically live. Prayer time, the scriptures and sermons are ways to find the Word. We can't just eat a "cheeseburger in 1998" and expect that to grow us. Often, we remember a great spiritual experience and expect that to carry us on. In the second part of the series, Johnson's team talked about finding our own voices in prayer. The best translation of the bible is the one that's read. "Just read it!" Whatever works for us, whether it be climbing a mountain or just listening, we need to find our ways of communicating with God. The third part of the series was experiencing and encountering God in prayer. One of the stand out examples in the bible was Jacob wrestling with God and refusing to let go of Him at one point until he received a blessing. Do we wrestle with God in prayer? Do we get to a point where we won't give up until He blesses us?

"One of the things that I see as the secret to prayer...and its bigger than using big words, being dedicated to prayer or even being consistent ..... It's called confidence"

When Johnson was 14, he went to a youth conference where Andy Stanley was speaking. He was thinking about how he had this great spiritual experience, but then...he went home. His dad was a Presbyterian minister, so Johnson already knew some things about the bible. He knew God was really big, God created everything and the Old Testament was really boring. He knew Jesus was the Savior, that God got really mad when people messed up and that God would often kill them. It wasn't anyone's fault, it was just Johnson's personal experience. So, going to the conference was a great step towards truly knowing Christ, but now it was a time to try and work on it at home.

He would read one chapter a day and Proverbs 3. It wasn't enthusiastic, but he started by reading one chapter and then praying until he fell asleep. For years, he practiced this, but for years it wasn't working. There was really no confidence in his prayers. We have issues, right? We have lusts and pride. Everytime Johnson failed to avoid doing what he knew wasn't right, he would feel unworthy. At the time he was just a 15 year old kid. It's like his impression of God was God doing these amazing things for other people, but then looking at Johnson and shaking his head in disappointment. One night, Johnson said (funny delivery), "God, if I masturbate again, then you can kill me....I didn't really keep my end of the deal." He was later driving back from a friends house and he was convinced that God was going to take him out. He visualized himself seeing his car fall off a cliff and he started mentally doing the "Hail Mary's".

We do that don't we? We feel like we are on some sort of spiritual probation. Then, whenever we sin, we do things that we think might be best like keeping our distance from God; not praying or reading the bible for maybe 3 days. Sometimes, we think maybe we can do something good to offset what we've done like helping an old lady across the street. We go back to God like this can have bearing. Another way we deal with our sin is we wait or take time for it to blow over. The irony of these approaches is that our reactions actually have more influence on our spiritual lives than our screwups! Genesis 3:9-10, Adam and Eve have just sinned and God calls for Adam, who answers, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid."

Johnson was talking to a couple several months ago because they hadn't returned to church in 3 months. He found that they had stopped going to church because they weren't tithing! It's like they didn't feel worthy as "hypocrites" to worship!?!

There came a point where Johson begin to pick up on stuff that brought him out of the slide of rejection. One of the stories that stood out was Peter's denial of Christ three times. You could look at Peter's REACTION though. Judas, after betraying Jesus, hung himself while Peter ran back to Jesus. When Peter saw Jesus after He had risen from the dead, he jumped out of the boat and swam to hug Jesus. His sin drove him to Jesus. This gave Johnson hope! Jesus didn't reject Peter at all. In Song of Solomon 1:5, it says we are dark and we are lovely. Somehow, even in our sin, God still loves us. We can hear this, but has it found its way into our hearts?

There's a difference between conviction and condemnation. Conviction says go back to God, get restored and get up and run. Condemnation means we are cast away or judged. Romans 8:1 tells us there is no condemnation now! Two people can look the same on the outside, but have two completely different hearts. There is a difference between someone who sins because of their weakness and someone who sins because they have a hard heart towards God and is rebellious. This can look exactly the same on the outside.

In Hebres, it talks about how Jesus, through his sacrifice, has made us perfect in the eyes of God. At the same time, we are being made Holy. A lot of times we go into prayer wondering why God is putting up with us. But on the flip side, if we understand that we are being made holy, if wer remember Peter running to God or if we are reminded that we are dark but lovely. These things drive us to CONFIDENCE

Hebrews 4:16- "Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." We will never pray our hearts out or wrestle with God or go back to new areas of prayer without confidence! Johnson believes there are 3 things that we have to have for an effective prayer life.

1) Dedication - Our commitment to pursue and communicate with God
2) Devotion - A desire and want to be close to God. (This is where many of us stop)
3) Confidence - The idea that God actually loves us back, even in our sin.

Lots of us have had this thought; that God is pure, loving and perfect except for His one blemish of character, the fact that He hates us. We think, "Why does God have all this grace for other people?" But somehow, Peter moved past this and had a confidence that Jesus would hug him back.

We have this cycle, right? We experience God and love it, we pray, we sin and then we walk away for a while until another experience with God. But if we have the confidence that He loves us, we will continue to experience more and more of God at deeper levels. 1 John 4 talks about how God gives us His Spirit. John, the author of this passage has seen and testifies that (Jesus) is the Savior of the world. John was the one who put his hand on Jesus' chest on the last night Jesus appeared after His resurrection. John was the last remaining disciple and nearly 90 when he wrote this. 1 John 3:1, "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him." So we know and rely on the love God has for us.

1 John 3:1 tells us to just step back and behold that God loves us. We want to experience love we can RELY on. Right? He wills that we know his love so that we are confident in the day of judgement. "We love because God loved us first." In this world, we are like Jesus and this should give confidence! Many of us think that the day of judgement will be horrible. The earth will be torn apart and people will be thrown into a lake of fire. It will be the worst day for those who do not know Him. But if we have the love of God, we can have confidence, even when it all comes crashing down. There is no fear in love. There is no rejection in perfect love BUT, if we can be confident on the day of judgement, how much more confident can we be today?

We don't have to be afraid of God. We don't have to view him like our imperfect dads. He is the perfect Father. We don't have to sneak back into his presence after sinning and quietly put the key back in the door hoping not to be caught. God is not waiting for us in the prayer room, tapping his toe in disappointment. God is waiting for us, like the Father of the prodigal son, waiting for us to come home. We need to anchor in our thoughts the vision of God running to us like the most loving of fathers. In our weakness, He is strong FOR US! It is so easy to fall into the trap of condemnation, but God wants us to run back to him to gain more confidence. We will screw up over and over and over. But we need to get up and be confident enought to continue the great race. Quit keeping score because God isn't.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

What Does "Blessed Are Those Who Mourn" Mean?

"We've been looking what it means to be truly human". Jesus erupted on the field in his time and people were just trying to figure out who He was. He had a dozen or so followers consisting of fisherman and tax collectors. They had seen miracles of the Savior, but probably the most memorable aspects to them were His insights to life. In Matt 5, Matthew outlines much of what Jesus shared with them. True to form, Jesus outlines the most counter intuitive of human traits as the keys to the Kingdom.

The first description of the kind person Jesus wanted to have close to Him was the "poor in spirit". This had to be a bit of a shock to those listening because Jesus wasn't calling for those who were strongest or the most agile. He would need powerful soldiers beside Him, wouldn't He? He would need the brightest of biblical scholars, right? No. The second attribute Jesus calls for are those "who mourn, for they will be comforted". Erwin can take the words "blessed" and "comforted" and connect the two, but putting "mourn" in the middle loses him. Who wakes up saying they've lost everything in this Recession; their house, there girlfriend, their money, their job and then think, "Hey, I need to add more grief and sorrow to be blessed"?

The end result is attractive, but wouldn't it have been better for Jesus to say, "blessed are those who avoid mourning"? Couldn't He give us a loophole to avoid the sorrows of life? If He is designing this whole thing, why can't He show us how we can stem bad experiences? But God tells us that our life in following Him will be filled with mourning and He is also tells us that there is a blessing in all of it. Erwin muses, "I look back and I think I now understand"

When Erwin was 13, he and his mom were driving down the rode and she asked him, "Honey, who do you think you would rather live with, your father or me?" Erwin responded unexpectedly (to his mother), by saying that he would want to return to El Salvador and live with his grandparents, Mammy and Pappy. Offended, his mother said, "Oh, so I could just die right now and you would be fine. Right?" Speaking truthfully, Erwin answered by saying, "Yes, I would be fine." He wasn't being mean to his mother. He was just sharing with her who he had become in life. He had experienced so much pain at that point in his life that he had figured out that the best way to deal with it was just to not feel anything at all. His parents had divorced and Erwin knew intense despair and disappointed to the point of not wanting to care anymore.

For mourning to happen, there has to be 1) loss and there has to be 2) love. If you haven't experienced mourning, you haven't lost anything you love. But if you live long enough, you will. If you don't, it is somewhat of a tragedy, because it means you've been hurt to the extent that you won't allow yourself to feel the deepest level of love because of the accompanying risk of sorrow and grief. Jesus mourned. To mourn is not only human, but divine. Jesus wept when he saw his friends mourning the death of a Lazarus and he joined them in their sorrow. His love wasn't limited to the individual. He looked over Jerusalem and said, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how I longed to hold you in my arms like a mother hen holds her chicks, but you would not."

A lot of us think that mourning is a sign of weakness and that if we have inner strength, we will never suffer inner loss. We've chosen to live on the surface level because we are so afraid of being wounded again. Maybe this is what Jesus meant by saying "blessed are those who mourn", because those who mourn are able to experience deep love. He promises us though, that if we allow ourselves to love, we will lose, but that He won't leave us. However, He does makes it very clear that we cannot navigate any way around loss.

"I've been to a lot of funerals...more than I ever cared to go to." says Erwin. Observing those in funerals, he came to realize that those who were most flamboyant about their grief in public were usually those who were most disconnected to the person who had died! Often, the ones who loved deeply actually wept in a very elegant quietness. Maybe Jesus moves us to the place of mourning so that we can be comforted. It is a genuinely beautiful experience to love. Grief is proof that love is more powerful than death. A person may die, but the love mysteriously continues to live on. The expression of grief is a desire to physically connect love with the one who is lost.

"I had a strange thing happen this past month." Erwin gets a lot of emails from people he doesn't know and one of the emails he received was from a couple in Kansas City, Brandon and Jodie. They looked to be in their early 20's. They were married and had a baby boy two years ago. After reading one of his books, Erwin was surprised and shocked to learn they had named their child "Erwin". But one day, he found out that Brandon was diagnosed with cancer. The couple, being believers, thought everything would be okay. But the cancer grew more aggressive and is now terminal. Erwin called and, for the first time, spoke briefly with the family, Jodie and then with Brandon before he was to go in to his final surgery. Brandon barely survived. Here is a moment, though, where aside from our grief, we ask God why this man, who serves Him and honors Him, would experience this kind of loss and threat to never be there as a father for his son. But Jesus never tells us we will be blessed because He "will fix it all". In fact, He promises we will have tragedy, death, sorrow and loss. What He does do is promise that His Spirit, the Great Comforter, will be with us. He promises us that, in our deepest moments of pain, He will meet us.

In Revelation 21:1-5, we get a peek into what it is going to look like in Heaven. Verse 5 is beautiful for the mourner; "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." Erwin says he doesn't know all the symbolism or metaphors of the book of Revelation, but what he does know is, Jesus does know our pain, but He is here to help us experience deep love, compassion joy, celebration and hope.

Do you ever read scripture and you just skip ove the parts that really don't make sense? What's curious about Revelation is the part in the verses above (Verse 1) that says there will no longer be a sea. "What's wrong with the sea?" muses Erwin. His name actually means "lover of the sea", so why would God want to get rid of it? To know the answer to this requires some explanation of context.

Erwin loves ice cream much more than his wife. Often, he compulsively gets an urge to get ice cream at odd times. Sometimes he will drive all the way to Pasadena just to go to "21 Choices", the pinnacle of ice cream experience. It's fantastic and they always have new flavors. But, no matter how many flavors he'll sample, which they allow, he always goes back to his "old school" flavor. He'll through in pecans, blackberries and strawberries. The entire experience is joyful and it reminds him of what Heaven must be like. Erwin learned years ago that, when he was 3 or 4 years old, his father actually kidnapped him and they found the two of them in an ice cream shop eating ice cream together. Could it be that this is why Erwin, decades later, loves ice cream so much, because he subconciously connects it with the love of his father?

The man who wrote the book of Revelation was a guy named John. Unlike the other apostles, who were killed, John was exiled to the island of Patmos. When he got up every day and walked to the edge of the beach, all he saw was a sea. The sea was what kept him from everyone he ever loved and or cared. How often John must have despised the sea that separated him. Writing "there will be no more death, weeping, mourning or pain", he includes "sea" as the symbolism that we will not have the separation of love. What are the seas in our lives? Erwin, still from his childhood loss of his father, still feels a disconnection when he loses someone.

Jesus knew that the experience of the most beautiful love would bring the greatest pain, is better to love. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." For those who are willing to risk much and experience the deepest loss, they are blessed.